Magical Research Mishaps

A little while back, Evan over at In Places Deep noted that carousing did not seem to be appropriate for all classes and suggested some alternatives. In particular, magic research for magic-users, with potential mishaps. I went a bit crazy in his comment section because I absolutely love this idea. Some of the potential side effects on Evan’s table (and Jeff’s original, too) are a bit too dire for my game, however. Lose all personal possessions? My players would kill me. So these side effects are a bit tamer.

It seems like the idea of spending money on magical research for experience has a precedent. The Dragon #10 (1977, Orgies, Inc., by Jon Pickens) offers the following categories of expenditure to gain experience:

  1. Sacrifices. All Classes.
  2. Philanthropy. Lawfuls only.
  3. Research. Magic Users and Alchemists.
  4. Clan Hoards. Dwarves and other Clannish Folk (probably Neutrals).
  5. Orgies. Fighting Men (excluding Rangers and Paladins), Bards, Thieves, and all Chaotics (excluding Monks).

Unlike Jeff’s carousing rules though, all of these options are risk free. It might be interesting to create a modern hierarchy of such methods using Jeff’s save/mishap mechanic. (Incidentally, I like the characterization there of Neutrals as Clannish Folk, i.e. those who would just like the world to leave them alone and do not care to concern themselves with any cosmic struggles.)

    Thanks to Aaron for recently blogging about that Orgies, Inc. article and thus bringing it to my attention.

    Anyways, on to the magical mishaps. Rules follow Jeff’s carousing, adjusted for type of save.

    Magic-users may spend d6 x 100 gp to earn that many XP. Then save versus Spells or roll on the Magical Research Mishaps table below. If you roll more money than you have on hand you now owe the difference to some sort of criminal (perhaps demonic) unless another PC can cover your expenses.

    1. Minor explosion: eyebrows burned off, frizzy scientist fro. Local wizards may begin to think you are incompetent.
    2. Rupture in the space-time continuum: small (1d6 inches) hole in the fabric of reality opens. Consider as a bottomless hole.
    3. You summoned it, but you can’t figure out how to unsummon it. It follows you around and does things at inconvenient times. Roll 1d4; it is: 1 – thumb-sized demon, 2 – two-headed rodent, 3 – small flying squid that swims through the air, 4 – floating bubble that follows you around and reforms if popped.
    4. That growth spell didn’t go the way you thought. Size as halfling for next 2d6 days. Clothes and armor no longer fit.
    5. That other growth spell didn’t go the way you thought. One of your companion’s mounts is now half sized, maybe permanently. Determine which randomly. (Random local livestock if party has no mounts.)
    6. Determine randomly one spell you can prepare. This spell must now always be prepared if you prepare any spells at all. You just can’t get that tune out of your head. Referee may rule on some way to undo this.
    7. Grow a useless tail 1d4 feet long.
    8. Vampiric synthesis gone awry: you no longer have a reflection.
    9. Experiment with the plane of shadow, to which your own shadow escapes.
    10. Overcome by the transience of life through metaphysical research. You new weep whenever you witness death. Further, the tears are blood.
    11. Super soldier serum of unknown potency. Re-roll strength.
    12. That love philtre didn’t go quite the way you expected. You now smell like catnip for (d6) 1-3: canines, 4-6: felines. This may make you unutterably delicious to monstrous versions of these creatures as well.
    13. Grow a small pair of demon wings. Much too small to do anything useful with.
    14. You manage to banish the demon you summoned successfully, but somehow its image was burned into your flesh. You now have a strange, moving tatoo. Roll for location: 1 face, 2 chest, 3 back, 4 left arm, 5 right arm, 6 rear, 7 left lef, 8 right leg. Maybe it can see what you can see.
    15. Beauty potion. Re-roll charisma.
    16. Grow horns. 1 – curled goat horns, 2 – antlers, 3 – pointy devil horns.
    17. Grow younger or older 1d4 years (odd younger, even older).
    18. Gain a reputation as an expert in an esoteric subject that totally bores you. You now must spend 1d4 days giving seminars in towns you visit that have magic-users or gain a reputation for being rude, standoffish, and secretive.
    19. You look into the abyss, and it looks back. A duke of hell or other powerful demon is now aware of you.
    20. Experiment with magicoluminescence gone awry. One area of your body now radiates a pale, eldritch light. Roll for location: 1 face, 2 chest, 3 back, 4 left arm, 5 right arm, 6 rear, 7 left lef, 8 right leg. Impossible to surprise others unless that part is covered completely. Permanent unless dispelled.
    Credit to James for #19, and many of the other comments on Evan’s post for inspiration.

      5 thoughts on “Magical Research Mishaps

      1. Evan

        In my defense, if I had designed the original carousing table it probably would have been a tad more lax than Jeff’s. I was going for compatibility and I didn’t want the magic user option to be the easy way out.

        That said, these are pretty darn good.

      2. Brendan

        I think the real trick will be finding a risky analogue like philanthropy for lawfuls, clerics, and similar do-gooders.

        Maybe I’m coming at this from the wrong angle. Perhaps we should start with the saving throw tables and invent one category per save of expenditure for experience.

        From Moldvay:

        – Death Ray or Poison: carousing
        – Magic Wands: ?
        – Paralysis or Turn to Stone: ?
        – Dragon Breath: ?
        – Rods, Staves, or Spells: magical research

        Wands is dodging-based, right? Maybe that can be some form of acrobatic or martial practice.

        Paralysis or Turn to Stone could be some form of self-abnegation, perhaps fasting, meditation, sacrifice and other (perhaps risky) ways of purifying the self and mollifying the gods or powers.

        Dragon Breath? Hell if I know. Doing risky things to show off for local notables and/or sex interests? Might overlap too much with carousing, but I guess this would lean more toward performance and the like.

        Just an off the cuff idea.


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